Sprenger, Aloys (DNB00)

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SPRENGER, ALOYS (1813–1893), orientalist, the son of Christopher Sprenger, by his wife Theresa, daughter of Herr Dietrich, was born at Nassereit in the Ober-Innthal, in Tyrol, on 3 Sept. 1813. He passed in 1832 from the gymnasium at Innsbruck to the university of Vienna, where he studied medicine and oriental languages, and was encouraged in his studies by Hammer-Purgstall and Rosenzweig. He wrote several papers on the learning of the East under his mother's surname of Dietrich. In 1836 he proceeded to Paris, and thence, in the same year, to London, where he collaborated in the Earl of Munster's projected work on the ‘Military Science among the Mussulmans’ [see Fitzclarence, George Augustus]. In 1838 he obtained letters of naturalisation as a British subject. On 12 June 1841 he graduated M.D. at Leyden University with a dissertation ‘De Originibus medicinæ Arabicæ sub Khalifatu,’ and next year for the Oriental Translation Fund he executed an excellent version of ‘El-Mas’údí's Historical Encyclopædia,’ entitled ‘Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems, from the Arabic’ (London, 1841, vol. i. only). Before he was able to complete a second volume he obtained an appointment in the medical service of the East India Company, and embarked for Calcutta early in 1843. In 1844 he was appointed principal of the Mahommedan college at Delhi, where he remained until 1848, and during that period issued ‘Technical Terms of the Sufees’ (Calcutta, 1844), an English-Hindustani grammar (1845), ‘Selections from Arabic Authors’ (Calcutta, 1845), and ‘The History of Mahmud Ghaznah’ (Calcutta, 1847). He is also credited during his residence at Delhi with having printed at his lithographic press, in Hindustani, the first weekly periodical to appear in an Indian vernacular. On 6 Dec. 1847 he received the appointment, and some two months later proceeded to Lucknow, as extra assistant-resident. At Lucknow, the principal home of oriental lore in India, he was employed in the congenial task of cataloguing the manuscripts in the libraries of the king of Oudh, the treasures of which were almost depleted during the Indian mutiny. The first volume only, containing Persian and Hindustani poetry, of this invaluable catalogue was published at Calcutta (Baptist Mission Press, 1854, 4to). His mastery of Persian was displayed in a version of the ‘Gulistan of Saadi’ (1851), and, to signify his appreciation of the work, the shah sent Sprenger an elephant. About this time Sprenger commenced the formation of his own choice oriental library, in the interests of which, and in quest of materials for his ‘Life of Mohammad,’ he subsequently travelled widely in Egypt, Syria, and Mesopotamia. The first portion of the ‘Life of Mohammad, from original sources,’ appeared at Allahabad in 1851. In the meantime Sprenger had left Lucknow (1 Jan. 1850), and from 1851 to 1854 was stationed at Calcutta as Persian translator to the government and principal of the Mahommedan College at Hoogli, and of the Calcutta ‘Madrassa.’ He also acted for some years as one of the secretaries of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, remaining an honorary member until his death. He left India in 1857, and settled first at Weinheim, and then at Heidelberg. At Weinheim he drew up a catalogue of the ‘Bibliotheca Orientalis Sprengeriana’ (containing nearly two thousand entries), which was published at Giessen in 1857. He wished to dispose of his books to the Imperial Library at Vienna, but the Austrian authorities were apathetic, and after a keen competition with Dr. Karl Halm, ‘Direktor’ of the Bavarian ‘State Library’ at Munich, the collection was secured by Herr Pinder for the Prussian State Library at Berlin (1858). Shortly afterwards Sprenger was called to be professor of oriental languages at the university of Berne. In this capacity he issued two works of importance in the German language: ‘Leben und Lehre des Mohammed’ (Berlin, 1861–5, 3 vols. 8vo), and ‘Die alte Geographie Arabiens’ (Berne, 1875, 8vo). In 1881 he returned to Heidelberg, where he died on 19 Dec. 1893, in his eighty-first year.

Sprenger married in 1843 Catharine, daughter of John Peter Müller of Frankfurt, and left issue three sons, of whom the eldest, Aloys, entered the public works department in India. Sprenger was not only an ardent and successful book-collector; his knowledge of oriental literature was as deep and discriminating as it was wide. He is said to have acquired a good practical knowledge of no less than twenty-five languages. While in the north of India he was an enthusiastic mountaineer, and, though he did not grapple with the difficult subject of old Arabic geography until he was over sixty, he dealt with it with an insight and acumen that seemed almost instinctive.

[Sprenger's Works in British Museum Library; Wurzbach's Biographisches Lexicon; Schoenherr's Sprenger in Indien; Tiroler Schützen-Zeitung, Innsbruck, 1850 and 1851; Homeward Mail, 29 Jan. 1895; Royal Asiatic Society Journal, 1894, p. 394; Asiatic Soc. of Bengal, Proceedings, 1894, p. 41; private information.]

T. S.